The Men’s Shelter
By Ronnie Barbett
Madison, Wisconsin has a men’s drop-in shelter located at Grace Episcopal Church, just off Capitol Square at West Washington Avenue for homeless men needing a temporary place to sleep with the intention of getting their life together. The shelter is staffed by Porchlight, Inc. The staff is paid, assisted by volunteers that serve at breakfast and dinner times. Even a couple of the homeless men volunteer to assist in its day-to-day operations. Homeless men can enter from 5 P.M. until 9 P.M. during winter hours and must exit by 7:30 A.M. In between these times, they are allowed the 2 meals, laundry facilities, use of the showers, and a bed. During the winter, a total of 3 shelters are available. There are rules and limitations you will want to know and will be advised of upon entry. If you can follow the rules, your stay each night will be tolerable.
There are a variety of reasons one might need these shelters, so feel free to come the Grace location at 5 P.M. and inquire within.
Regardless of the weather, all the homeless men going inside any of the shelter locations for the evening must stand on the Capitol side of Carroll Street across from Grace until someone comes out from the church to wave them over. After crossing the street, they are then to line up again at the church shelter entry door and stand there for several minutes until staff is ready for entry sign up. Eventually, a staff member will come out and tell the men that anyone who did not stay in the Grace shelter the night before may enter the building. The men are then lined up in a long hallway where they wait to step up for the sign in process. Each man is asked for his name, birth date, perhaps even an I.D., and may even be subject to a breathalyzer test before being allowed downstairs to the shelter area. Keep in mind that no part of the facility may be used by the men until their sign in process is completed. The Grace shelter area consists of a lavatory and shower area, rows of bunk beds for sleeping, and a small dining area next to the kitchen. When you see all this, you are now inside the Grace shelter.
Staying inside the night shelter’s system is easy when you follow the rules, with dinner provided at 8 P.M. and breakfast from 6 to 7 A.M. after your wake up call. A soda pop machine and water fountain is available but other drinks such as milk for dinner or coffee at breakfast are not offered until a meal is served. Those staying overnight have access to lockers during their overnight stay, but must remove their belongings each morning before they leave. A limited time each night is allowed for the men to do laundry and the men sign up for this as they enter the shelter area each night. A TV is often available for viewing in the dining area while you wash and dry your clothes or just wait for dinnertime. Porchlight even provides transportation at 8 A.M. to their Hospitality House at 1490 Martin Street for those that need outreach services.
Surviving The Shelter Experience
Those going inside the shelter system have one or two problems that come along with just needing the shelter services. If you are temporarily down and out with a quick fix solution to fix your problem, that’s good for you. If well behaved, those in the shelters with the ability to put up with each other survive the longest. Taking advantage of the services that the Hospitality House has to offer – employment opportunities, housing referrals, bus passes, counseling for most homeless situations – will actually help to shorten your homelessness and shelter stay.